For some strange reason, over the weekend I got to think about marriage from a number of different angles and now feel I have something worth blogging about, even if unsure where it will end.
While it is not appropriate to refer to my own situation when discussing these matters, I can state that I am married and, despite our challenges, have been so for 19 years, and are still going strong, but it remains work in progress. For I realize now, more than ever, the truth of the old wisdom that marriage is something that needs to be worked hard at if it is to work and sometimes ponder on the archbishop’s wife’s response when asked if, with respect to her husband, she had ever been tempted to commit adultery. Her reply was adultery never but murder – that was another matter.
Two days ago, I bumped into an old friend who I haven’t seen for many a year. In the course of our conversation, I asked how his parents were (both Christians) and the response was they were divorced, which came as a bit of a shock as my recollection was that they had a rock solid relationship. In our conversation, we spoke about Street Pastors, an organization we are both involved in. It struck us while talking that some of those involved in this fantastic work were able to do so because they themselves had experienced difficulties in life such they could empathize with the people they met on the streets, and one of the reasons they could do this was that they had experienced the disappointment of failed marriages.
Getting on to Sunday services at the church, I listened with interest to the children’s talk. The guy that did the talk did so superbly and with sensitivity but was not afraid to tackle awkward subjects. His subject yesterday was Jacob, who had not one but four wives, who all bore children who would become the founders of the twelve tribes of Israel. In the talk, he reflected on the names of the children and the circumstances behind the marriages, concluding (to put it mildly) these were less than ideal. I couldn’t help thinking about the verse I use to justify one man, one woman marriage: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:21), reflecting that while polygamy was not something God had in mind, it did go on and, moreover, when it came to the likes of people like Jacob, He did not condemn and continued to bless them irrespective.
Then there was my sermon, which was to do with the story of Ruth. I have long taken the view that when I preach I do not cherry pick and am prepared to tackle awkward subjects if the need arose. As I recounted the incident when Naomi, who was the mother of Ruth’s husband who had recently died, told Ruth to return to her home and that Naomi would return alone to her homeland, one of the reasons given was that she had no sons in her womb that could be given to Ruth in marriage. For the culture we live in, where love is seen as the key, this would appear to be a strange and bemusing statement, but not then. The point I brought out was how God, in giving the laws to His (the Jewish) people, was very clear about the importance of marriage and the family and perpetuating the name of the deceased by declaring his close relative should marry the widow.
This got me thinking about two votes that have just taken place, to do with legalizing same sex marriage, and one important judgment that is about to be handed down that will likely have important consequences. One of my Facebook friends, who I had reckoned to have fairly conservative views on such matters posted (approvingly) regarding the vote that had just taken place in the New Zealand Parliament to legalize same sex marriage and later the result of the Irish referendum when a country seen to be quite traditional in its thinking voted overwhelmingly to do the same. In the postings, it was pointed out that both results were greeted by joy and relief, not just by my friend but by those who had an interest. The pending judgement is one by the US Supreme court. Currently same sex marriage is legal in some states but not others. The proposition is whether to make this a constitutional right for the whole country.
To cap things off, and here I come to the crux of the matter, is an article by Christian Today, which from what I can make out generally presents a fairly conservative position, which had the intriguing title: “Same-sex marriage: What the Irish referendum result says to the Churches”. The article begins: “Ireland has voted resoundingly in favour of same-sex marriage. There are three notable – and rather heartening – things to notice about this ‘social revolution’”. Firstly, the Irish have gone about the matter in a better way than did the UK. In the Irish case it was clear that the people have spoken whereas on the UK case it seemed to be that an elite intent on being politically correct, had imposed its will regardless of what the people who elected them thought – and surely there are lessons to be learned. Secondly, quoting an Irish church spokesman, life carries on much the same as before and things like marriage and the family still remain important. Thirdly, and citing the same spokesman, the church needs to approach what appears to be a disappointing verdict, with humility. The people have voted based as much on an emotional response to the need for equality and against intolerance and judgmental attitudes, and the church needs to take stock and show people the love of Christ through serving them.
For someone who has argued against same sex marriage but recognizes the bigger picture where marriage in any form is increasingly under attack, recognizing its importance for the well being of society, just as it was in the times of Jacob and Ruth, all of the above provides much room for thought. Rather than come up with my own profound words by way of conclusion, I commend the concluding paragraph of the Christian Today article as food for thought: “In both Ireland and the UK, the introduction of same-sex marriage presents very difficult questions for the Churches. For some, there are ‘red lines’ which make compromise of any kind unacceptable; for others, not so much. But it is worth saying that for most people it is the personal challenges of marriage itself that are hard enough. Divorce, with the associated emotional price paid by the couple themselves and by any children they may have, is one of the scourges of modern society. A refocusing of campaigning energy, from preventing a particular form of marriage to preventing large numbers of divorces, would be very welcome”.